CollegeAD Conversation: Georgia Southern AD Tom Kleinlein

September 24th, 2019 | by CollegeAD
CollegeAD Conversation: Georgia Southern AD Tom Kleinlein

Tom Keleinlein
Since being hired in November of 2012, Tom Kleinlein has overseen an enormous amount of growth and change at Georgia Southern. Kleinlein has guided the Eagles transition from an FCS football power to a Sun Belt Conference championship contender across the spectrum. Kleinlein recently spoke with CollegeAD in a wide-ranging interview covering multiple topics including facilities, alcohol sales, success, and more.

Editors Note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

CollegeAD: You’ve recently started renovation to historic Hanner Fieldhouse, what do those renovations entail? 

Tom Kleinlein: The challenge we have is that our basketball coach loves the environment that Hanner brings but yet we have to enhance it for recruiting. We’ve got to make it a little bit nicer.

We started talking to a donor about a year ago and planned an expansion of the front entrance, move the concessions from the lower level up to that expanded area, to create an entertainment area for donors to watch the game courtside, and at the same time that will serve as a players’ lounge for men’s and women’s basketball during the week.

The other part that’s happening in Phase I right now is our health and kinesiology programs moved out of our facility and into another facility which opened up the back gym space for it to become a stand-alone practice facility. We’re currently converting that space into a men’s and women’s practice facility.

Tom KeleinleinWe used to have three teams and cheerleading competing for the main space in Hanner and a back gym. Now, that back gym will belong to men’s and women’s basketball as a practice facility. There’s another auxiliary gym which will eventually become the volleyball practice facility and then we’ll have the main gym. So in essence, this facility, probably within the year will have two practice facilities – one for basketball and one for volleyball – and the main gym.

CollegeAD: Included in the Hanner Fieldhouse project is the moving of the concessions area which has allowed you to create a player’s lounge and utilize the same space as a premium area on game day. How important are multipurpose spaces when designing upgrades and changes?

Tom Kleinlein: That’s the niche of this level of athletics: how do we build things that serve as many of our needs as possible? So anytime we’re talking about a facility change, we ask how does it drive revenue, how does it affect recruiting, how does it help the student-athlete experience?

The home run is when you can do all of those things, and I think that one of the unique things about this project is that in Phase II when we move that concession area, that’s going to help our student-athletes, drive revenue for our donors, and help recruiting.

CollegeAD: Georgia Southern currently allows for alcohol to be consumed in private, premium areas, any plans to expand alcohol sales to general seating sections?

Tom Kleinlein: Right now we don’t plan to expand sales in our football area or any of the other areas.

One of the things we were able to do is drive a desire to sit in those premium sections because it’s available in those sections. We use the exclusivity of it to help drive those premium sales, and that’s worked really well for us.

When we expanded our stadium, we put in those premium areas on the visitor’s side which are at about 75% capacity. The Bishop endzone is completely sold out, and those are our two biggest premium areas in our stadium. Tom Keleinlein

CollegeAD: 2019 marks the six-year anniversary of Georgia Southern joining the Sun Belt, what has the move to the Sun Belt meant for the Eagles?

Tom Kleinlein: The whole concept of the plan is to use athletics to expand the brand of the university. We wanted to take the regional association off of the brand and expand it. By playing in this conference, we’re going into Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, so that brand is moving with us. That’s one of the unique things about college athletics is that it can actually help grow the brand of a university.

So being part of the Sun Belt has really helped to expand the brand and growth of our university into those areas which is extremely important.

CollegeAD: By joining the Sun Belt athletics has been able to spread the Georgia Southern brand, but for that to happen you must be aligned with campus, why is it so important for both campus and athletics to be aligned and on the same page?

Tom Kleinlein: It’s been extremely important, but at the same time at Georgia Southern, it’s been extremely challenging. In the eight-year tenure that I’ve been here, we’ve had five presidents this one being my fifth.

We’re at a unique point right now at Georgia Southern where I feel like we’ve never been more aligned with the university since the day I was hired. Alignment is at its best right now. We’re excited about our new president and his vision with where he sees athletics in our institution.

Tom KeleinleinBut correct, when it comes to moving and doing what we need to do in today’s world of athletics, you have to be aligned with the president. That’s why in our athletic department mission statement, we talk about serving the mission of the university. In our staff meetings, we frequently talk about how we can serve the institution in the best way possible.

CollegeAD: What’s next for Georiga Southern?

Tom Kleinlein: The challenge that we’ve had at Georgia Southern has been the same thing. We’ve been on this journey since I got here, and it’s been about taking a highly successful football program, moving it up, and then becoming a very comprehensively successful athletic department.

Those are two big, different things.

You’re beginning to see our football and basketball products grow tremendously. Our baseball product continues to rise, and get to the level where it’s been. We’ve got to improve our women’s sports, and we knew coming in with the softball and volleyball played in the Sun Belt that it was a step up.

So we have to continue to improve, and it’s about being consistent across the board because, at the end of the day, you always want Georgia Southern to be the story throughout the year. Not just during football season.

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